On Day 900 of Osman Kavala’s Detention, We Repeat: Free All the Rights Defenders Now

Today marks 900 days since Turkish human rights defender Osman Kavala has been detained. To-date, there are no convictions against him, nor has there been an indictment for his latest arrest. Despite this, and a December 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling that Kavala’s right to liberty and security were violated, Turkey’s authorities continue to arbitrarily keep him behind bars.

Civil Rights Defenders, together with 19 other civil society organisations which make up the Solidarity Network for Human Rights Defenders, have issued a statement condemning Kavala’s continued detention and call for his immediate release. The statement also urges Turkey’s authorities to release all human rights defenders and prisoners who exercised their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The full statement reads: “On 14 April 2020, the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Turkey stated that there are overall 17 confirmed coronavirus cases among the prisoners in 5 prisons in Turkey, and 3 of these cases resulted in death. This statement was an admission by the authorities of the presence of coronavirus inside the prisons. Current capacity issues prevent effective social distancing in prison, which is fundamental to halting the spread of the virus.  Moreover, the hygienic measures are inadequate in prisons and certain fundamental rights, such as the right to nutrition and the right to health, are constantly violated.

Numerous rights defenders, who exercise their essential rights as the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association, have been left unprotected against the coronavirus in prisons as a result of the arrest warrants in pursuit of the unfair investigations and trials. While their various rights have already been violated, now their right to life is under serious threat due to the pandemic.

The fact that three prisoners have already died of the virus confirms that this risk to life is real, and that detention practices amount to violations that can cause irreparable harm. Such practices fly in the face of the Constitution and international treaties which enjoin the state to protect the rights to life and health.

Osman Kavala has been detained since November 2017, and on 10 December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Kavala’s right to liberty and security were violated and called for his immediate release. Kavala, who was rearrested right after he was acquitted and released on 18 February 2020, was arrested once again on 9 March 2020, making this his third arrest within the 900 days he spent behind bars. There are no convictions against Osman Kavala and there is still no indictment for his latest arrest, which is also the case for many other rights defenders who have been kept behind bars despite the presumption of innocence principle.

Detention practice, which constitutes an exceptional “preventive measure” in the Criminal Procedure Code, puts rights defenders’ right to life in jeopardy due to the current pandemic. Therefore, it is necessary to promulgate the legal mechanisms that will allow the release of rights defenders who have been given criminal sentences. Courts that have been implementing detention practice as a ‘preventive measure’ during investigation and prosecution should issue decisions for immediate release to protect and secure the right to life.

On the 900th day of the detention of Osman Kavala, who is in a higher risk group due to his age and being kept behind bars on unfounded charges, we demand his immediate release, and the freeing of all the other rights defenders so their right to life will not be violated.”

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